Nigerian Man Who Faced Persecution by Boko Haram Wins Asylum in U.S.

Columbia Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic Represents Christian Man Whose Neighbors and Family Members Were Killed by Muslim Extremist Groups

New York, September 18, 2014—A 29-year-old Nigerian man who faced persecution because of his Christian faith by members of Muslim extremist groups Hausa Fulani and Boko Haram has been released from a federal detention center after an immigration judge granted his request for asylum on Sept. 17, the Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic announced today.

Michael C., a member of the Berom people from the city of Jos, faced near constant threats over more than a decade from the Hausa Fulani and Boko Haram, a terrorist group trying to eliminate Western influence in Nigeria. In 2001, Michael’s cousin was killed in a massacre. In 2008, his home was burned as part of an extensive attack on Christian Beromites, and, in 2010, his youngest brother was killed while hanging out with friends near the family’s church.
 Michael C., an asylum-seeker from Nigerian, heard about the Immigrants' Rights Clinic from a fellow detainee.
“I appreciate very much the chance to seek asylum,” Michael said. “The U.S. is a dream place to come.”
Michael’s case highlights the dangers Christians face in parts of Nigeria controlled by Muslim extremists including Boko Haram, which captured the world’s attention last spring when it kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls. Jos, a city in the Plateau State, has been especially violent as it is located between Christian and Muslim areas. In May 2014, 118 people were killed in Jos in a bomb attack.  The U.S. State Department has recognized that Boko Haram is persecuting Christians throughout Nigeria because of their faith.
Michael first sought refuge in Israel in 2011. He spent a few months in a refugee detention camp before being released pending his court proceedings. Fearful of being detained indefinitely, Michael returned to Nigeria in August 2013 where he immediately began making plans to escape to a Western country.
Upon arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on February 21, Michael was picked up immediately by immigration authorities. He was detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey while he sought asylum and reached out to Columbia Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic for help with his case in March after hearing about the clinic from another detainee.
“It was an incredible experience to represent Michael,” said Urooj Khan ’15, one of the clinic students who handled the case. “I learned so much from him about how to be a better advocate, how to be a better lawyer.”
Michael C. and Urooj Khan ’15, one of the clinic students who handled the case, the day after Michael was released from the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey.
Katherine Park ’14, who started work as a fellow at Immigrant Justice Corps after graduating in May, also worked on Michael’s case. Clinic director and Columbia Law School Associate Clinical Professor of Law Elora Mukherjee supervised the representation.
“For me it is a privilege to have Elora work on my case, but also to have people like Urooj and Katherine,” Michael said. “They were doing more than their jobs. They came to accept me; they see me as human. I will ever remain grateful.”